Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC) 2010 – Interview with R. Jay GaBany

Are you interested in astro-imaging? If you answered "yes" then you've probably heard of the Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC). It's probably fair to say that the Advanced Imaging Conference brings together more astrophotographers than any other imaging conference in the world. This year the AIC 2010 will be held from October 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara in Santa Clara, California. Recently, I had the pleasure to interview R. Jay GaBany who is the Webmaster and Marketing & Communications person for AIC 2010. We had a very interesting discussion that covered a lot of ground. My interview with Jay is included below:

You are advertising a new and improved venue for this year's conference. What we can expect from The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara?
The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara is a luxury, AAA Four Diamond hotel that just went through $12 million renovation and it looks brand new inside. The rooms are quiet and all have been upgraded with new carpeting, new furniture and 32- inch LCD HDTV's, for example. There are three specialty restaurants (Sushi, Mediterranean and American cuisines) on site and we've negotiated discounts for our attendees. In short, this year's AIC hotel is in a different class from the one we've used in the past. Significantly, the conference room rate has not changed in over four years- it's only $99 per night- but rooms at this rate are limited.

Let's talk numbers. How many attendees are you expecting this year? Speakers? Sessions? Vendors?

This year we are anticipating about 300 attendees in total. We have space for up to 37 exhibitors and have scheduled 22 world class speakers. Our agenda features 19 Friday workshops and 11 presentations during the weekend General Session.

I believe the Advanced Imaging Conference is the largest imaging conference held in the U.S. and maybe the world. Why does the AIC draw so many people?
There are several great astronomical gatherings held each year across the country but most of them are focused on the exhibition and sale of equipment and software. Some, to their credit, have also attached an astro-imaging event but retail sales to the general public are their core purpose. The AIC, conversely, is primarily focused on the dissemination of astro-imaging information, skills and techniques with an exhibition tacked on the side to help offset the cost of registration for everyone else. The hard core hobbyists recognize and appreciate this difference.

But beyond that, astrophotography is a very challenging pastime. The first year is a supreme struggle and even folks with five or more years of experience are still on the lookout for processing techniques that will save time or improve the quality of their final image. Each year, the AIC attracts most of the community's leading experts and that draws everyone else.

How many years has this conference been held? How has it changed over the years?
2010 is the AIC's seventh annual get together! It was originally conceived to be a small, casual weekend gathering of astro-imaging friends to share processing techniques and experiences. Well, the first meeting had over 75 attendees and each year that number has grown.

Three years ago, we tried an experiment by offering Friday workshops as an optional extra day. Last year, 95% of our attendees attended the workshops. This year, it looks like workshop participation will be 99% and next year we may remove the option for Friday and make the conference a three day, long weekend event.

The conference has also become an international meeting of the astrophotography community's best and brightest. For example, over the past few years we've been regularly joined by folks from Europe, Latin America and Australia. So, we've tried to offer at least one speaker from overseas at each meeting. For instance, this year we have a speaker from Australia.

There are many talented people involved in astro-imaging. How do you go about choosing your speakers?
That's a good question! Each year, following the conference, we conduct an anonymous survey and gauge our attendees' reaction to the agenda. We also ask for suggestions about next year's speakers and topics. Typically, our response rate exceeds 50%, so we receive a flood of great ideas. We supplement these results by approaching folks who are considered experts by the community. We also try to make sure our speakers are good teachers and presenters. A few years ago, we adopted a policy of not featuring the same speaker two years in a row and we believe this has helped keep our gathering fresh from conference to conference.

How do you balance the number of professional astronomers presenting vs. the number of amateur astronomers presenting?
Each AIC is organized around several fundamental themes that include image acquisition, image processing and astronomical inspiration in a matrix that also considers the needs of advanced enthusiasts versus new hobbyists. This helps insure we have presentations and workshops that meet the needs described by our attendee survey results. So, for example, our inclusion of professional astronomers is intended to satisfy our attendees' desire to be inspired. If you include the number of workshop speakers, the number of professional presentations is small. Personally, I wish we had time to include more.

Do you market the AIC all over the world or is it primarily aimed at U.S. imagers?
We do not limit our marketing to the US. Some of our information is disseminated through online astrophotography lists which include hobbyists from around the world. We also publish an electronic newsletter that is distributed internationally to over 700 people. This is a tight knit community and the AIC offers everyone the best chance to have 'live' face to face conversations with folks they have come to know through message board lists, emails and by reputation.

What are the AIC Spotlight Presentations?
We are constantly trying to keep our conferences interesting and the 2010 AIC Spotlight Presentations are our latest experiment to be more inclusive. So, we're giving four attendees an opportunity to give a short presentation regarding an astro-photographic project, processing technique, collaboration or accomplishment. We're hoping this will result in the 'discovery' of new imaging stars!

What is the Hubble Award and how are the recipients chosen?
The Hubble Award is the conference's highest accolade for achievement within the astro-photography community. It's presented to those individuals who have demonstrated significant and sustained contributions over a period of years. Production of fine images is only one criteria but certainly not the most important factor that is considered. Popularization through public outreach, technical innovation, scientific contributions and selfless direct support to other imagers also represent key accomplishments. Annually, the AIC Board of Directors nominates then discusses the qualifications of several candidates. The final selection requires a unanimous vote. Last year, we also introduced the Pleiades award for the very brightest, most exceptional imagers who are either youthful in years or relatively young to the endeavor of astro-photography. The Pleiades award selection is announced following the annual conference.

Finally, how's the food?
This year, the food is going to be out of this world! The Board places a big emphasis on the quality of the meals we serve during the conference. For example, our administrative assistant has spent a lot of hours with the hotel catering service testing menus to make sure our attendees' taste buds will be delighted. This year, we've also added a Friday night dinner to the General conference registration fee and we've upgraded Saturday and Sunday breakfast to a hot, sit down meal.

Thank you very much for your time and participation.

Be sure to check out the Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC) 2010 web site for more information.

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